Some people spend dozens of hours each week playing online computer games. It would be easy to assume that they must be addicted to gaming. However, a study by psychologists from the MU Faculty of Social Studies says that this is not the case. The study involved nearly ten thousand keen players, and it was found that only a small percentage show signs of addiction. Games are far less dangerous than is commonly thought.
The researchers took a very thorough approach to the research. They gained access to a community of players and asked the members to answer a detailed 45-minute questionnaire three times at six-month intervals.
In this way, they obtained a mass of data that allows them to look into the minds of gamers better than anything else and that challenges preconceptions about online-gaming enthusiasts. “Out of the thousands of players who filled in the questionnaire, only a single-digit percentage showed signs of real addiction,” explains Lukas Blinka, who heads the research team. “Games themselves are only marginally responsible for the development of addiction. If people do get into trouble, it is more likely because of their psychological predisposition, not because games are impossible to resist.”
People game most when changing schools
Everything seems to indicate that the bad reputation of games is at least partly undeserved. Just like music or movies, they serve as mood lifters. They help people relax and come to terms with psychological discomfort.
According to Blinka, however, they can play a more important role for some people. They are often used as a crutch during the transition from one life stage to the next. It turns out that users often “game” most intensely when transitioning from primary to secondary school, from secondary school to university or during exam periods. These are turbulent times when a person’s environment and the people around them change. A number of players find it easier to cope with the new situation through their PCs and with the community that comes with gaming. “If their psychological state and social functioning is healthy, they will be able to deal with the situation and no addiction will develop,” says Blinka.
Violence does not come from computer use
The findings of his team could reassure many a nervous parent as well as those people who find connections between gaming and real-life violence. It is not true that seeing something on a computer screen makes a person want to try it out in real life. As Blinka stresses, “Games do not control the users. If something like this really happens, it is very likely that the person would do it anyway, even without seeing such behaviour on a PC screen.”
The psychologists found that players who are truly addicted have a slightly higher tendency to compete with others, as their success in the game gives them a sense of their own value that they do not find elsewhere. These are usually also people with poorer social skills.
Psychologically, therefore, online computer gaming is only a serious problem for a relatively small part of the population. However, Lukas Blinka notes that the medical and sociological effects for avid gaming enthusiasts are a completely different matter. These are obviously problematic.
Not being psychologically addicted despite thirty or forty hours of gaming a week does not mean that gamers avoid health issues related to a sedentary lifestyle and lack of fresh air, or that they do not find it hard to function socially and in different types of real-life groups and communities. Intense immersion in the world of games has a significant negative impact in both these areas, especially with regard to younger users.